Siam, Muang Thai, Thailand, no matter what you call it, Thailand is a place which makes visitors feel very welcome.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy and their King is world’s longest serving monarch. The Thais revere their Royal Family and in a country that does suffer from political protests and sometimes erratic governments, it is the will of the King that is respected at all times.
Although Thailand has experienced political disturbances and social upheaval in recent times, none of this is directed towards visitors, so, from that aspect, Thailand is still a safe place to visit. However, there is the chance that if protests continue, freedom of movement and ease of travel may be affected so it would be wise to consider the Thai domestic situation before planning a visit.
With that proviso, Thailand is still one of my favourite destinations. The country is blessed with beautiful beaches, interesting jungle-covered hill areas and one of the world’s most exciting cities in Bangkok.
Thailand’s Capital is one of those cities you either love or hate; it is difficult to be nonchalant about Bangkok. The metropolis is big and sprawling, somewhat polluted and traffic is shocking. On the other hand, the people are wonderfully friendly, it has a fascinating culture and some tremendous traditional architecture, and it is never dull.
The great thing about Thailand is that you don’t actually have to go anywhere near Bangkok in order to enjoy the country. There are international flights to Phuket, Krabi, Koh Samui and Chiang Mai, and often, international visitors never venture out of these areas.
Chiang Mai is the second largest province, and also the name of the Capital of the province. It is situated about 700 kilometres north of Bangkok in the hills and is surrounded by dense jungle, and is known for its ethnic hill tribes who have many fascinating customs and cultures. Visitors here tend to go trekking, rafting, golfing and elephant riding. Chiang Mai has a popular night market at which jewellery, clothing and handcrafts are sold.
Krabi is located in the south on the Andaman Sea and is an area of outstanding natural beauty. There are tall limestone cliffs here that are very popular with rock climbers and the Phi Phi Islands which are very popular with vacationers for outstanding diving and snorkelling in the clear waters here.
Koh Samui is an island that is part of Surat Thani Province and is located just east of the Kra Isthmus. It is Thailand’s third largest island and has rapidly increased its tourist infrastructure in recent years so that now it challenges Phuket as Thailand’s second most popular tourist destination after Bangkok.
Which leads me to Phuket, an area I have visited on a number of occasions and which, for me, rivals Bali for being the ultimate holiday destination. Phuket is in the south of Thailand, and is that country’s largest island. There are tourist development and resorts all over Phuket, and although the major town if called Phuket City, the biggest tourist town is Patong.
For me, Phuket resembles Bali in that if you want a lot of night life and shopping you can hang around Patong, just as you would hang around Kuta on Bali. Or, if you want your vacation to be a bit quieter, there are many other beach resorts that are very laid back and which guarantee you peace, quiet and tranquillity. Moving south from Paton you have Karon, Kata and Kata Noi beaches, which get quieter the further you are from Patong, and to the north you have Kamala, Surin and Bang Tao beaches.
Thailand is still reasonably priced and you can pick up some excellent holiday packages. There are many airlines which service many ports in Thailand from dozens of countries. Getting around Thailand is simple. There are several budget airlines for which fares can be ridiculously cheap. Thailand also has an efficient long distance coach system and good rail services too. For local transport there are taxis, but make sure that they use their meters, and insist that they turn them on. Thailand is known for its tuk tuks, small vehicles which carry passengers for fixed prices. Although the tuk tuk drivers are adroit at negotiating their way through traffic, they can sometimes be a little too exciting. They also have baht buses too. The Baht is the Thai currency, and baht buses are utility vehicles that have wooden benches in the back. They tend to be cheaper than tuk tuks, but they also pick up and set down other passengers, so they a not exclusively for single passenger use.